• Brian Lewis
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


The Wolfenden Report, largely drafted by Wolfenden and Conwy Roberts, with input, reservations and stylistic suggestions from the other committee members, was published on 4 September 1957.1 This introduction and the excerpts that follow will focus on the most significant parts of the report: the committee’s understanding of homosexuality; its recommendations for a limited legalization of private homosexual acts; and its discussion of an age of consent.


Sexual Arousal Criminal Offence Homosexual Behaviour Adult Partner Private Morality 
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  1. 1.
    Wolfenden, Turning Points, p. 138. The assistant secretary, E. J. Freeman of the Scottish Home Department, had sufficient reservations about the report that he was reluctant to sign—until whipped into line by his superiors. See Michael McManus, Tory Pride and Prejudice: The Conservative Party and Homosexual Law Reform (London: Biteback Publishing, 2011), p. 26.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Patrick Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 8–25. For a similar argument see Lord Denning’s address to the Law Society’s conference (Times, 27 Sept. 1957, p. 7): ‘I would say most emphatically that standards and morals are the concern of the law, and that whether done in private or in public … I would say that without religion there can be no morality and without morality there can be no law’.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    H. L. A. Hart, Law, Liberty and Morality (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1963), chaps. 1–3; quotation p. 81. See also a similarly themed talk by Hart, ‘Immorality and Treason’, broadcast on the BBC Third Programme, 14 July 1959 (BBC, TX 14/07/1959).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Hall, ‘Reformism and the Legislation of Content’, 1, 11–12; Weeks, The World We Have Won, pp. 54–5, 88; Mark Jarvis, Conservative Governments, Morality and Social Change in Affluent Britain, 1957–64 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), pp. 6, 94–9. Hall’s list (p. 1) includes the Homicide Act (1957), the Street Offences Act (1959), the Obscene Publications Acts (1959 and 1964), the Suicide Act (1961), the Murder (Abolition) Act (1965), the Sexual Offences Act (1967), the Family Planning Act (1967) and the Abortion Act (1967), plus legislation concerning licensing, gambling, theatre censorship, Sunday entertainments and divorce.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    See Lucy Robinson, Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal Got Political (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 38–40; Stephen Brooke, Sexual Politics, Family Planning, and the British Left from the 1880s to the Present Day (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 154–5, 177–9; Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, vol. III: The Later Years 1945–1962 (New York: Atheneum, 1968), p. 355.Google Scholar
  6. 24.
    See Lisa Power, No Bath but Plenty of Bubbles: An Oral History of the Gay Liberation Front 1970–73 (London: Cassell, 1995).Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Barbara Wootton, ‘Sickness or Sin?’ The Twentieth Century, 159 (May 1956), 433–42.Google Scholar

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© Brian Lewis 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Lewis
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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